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Letter: Byrne courts controversy for a reason

Gerry Byrne thinks there’s still work to be done on passenger bill of rights.
Gerry Byrne thinks there’s still work to be done on passenger bill of rights.

On Friday, Aug. 4 at approximately 9:40 a.m., MHA Gerry Byrne made these remarks on VOCM: “I don’t look for a controversy for the sake of a controversy. I step in where I see a need to have an active discussion to get facts out on the table and to get the full truth out. I don’t mind it when people take a poke at me. I don’t mind it when I get embroiled in a little bit of a controversy because at the end of the day, something good always comes of it.”

After hearing these remarks I thought, Gerry Byrne, not one to start a controversy? Hmm. I wonder if Canadian/American actress Pamela Anderson, the late Sam Simon (of “The Simpsons” fame), officials at Memorial University, and the world’s largest animal rights organization, PETA, share Byrne’s assessment of himself?

Let’s review some incidents where controversy erupted solely because of the antics of Byrne and seemed created solely for the sake of controversy.

1) Huffington Post, December 2013: “Gerry Byrne, Liberal MP, slams Pamela Anderson, Sam Simon, over sealing comments.” Both Anderson and Simon were in St. John’s where they offered $1 million to sealers if they stopped the hunt. Byrne got personal and criticized Anderson over her hepatitis C disease, calling it sexually transmitted and remarked she was a “has-been.” As for Simon (who was dealing with terminal cancer), Byrne tweeted “a guy dying of cancer… men of retirement age aren’t important!” Anderson wrote at the time: “Mr. Byrne’s juvenile remarks seem better suited to someone running for class clown...” Byrne was forced to apologize. Using Byrne’s own words from my opening: “I don’t look for a controversy for the sake of a controversy,” well then, what was the point of all this? What facts were Byrne trying to get out on the table? What truth was he trying to get out?

2) CBC News, April 2017: “Allegations of financial fudging unfounded says MUN president during town hall forum.” Byrne espoused that MUN had been providing inaccurate financial information to the public about per-student operating costs at the university. MUN president Gary Kachanoski said Byrne’s remarks were “unfounded and not correct.” Kachanoski added, “these are serious allegations that call into question our integrity.” Noreen Golfman, MUN’s provost and vice-president academic said, “you have a minister accusing us of stuff...” Who created that controversy and what was the point? Why was it important to do all this in public?

3) CBC headline, January 2010: “Pie hit should earn PETA ‘terrorist’ label: MP.” At the time, federal Fisheries minister Gail Shea got a pie in the face while speaking in Burlington, Ont. Byrne said the act should be a test case to try to label PETA as a terrorist group. PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, responded: “Mr. Byrne’s reaction is a silly, chest-beating exercise.” She added, people are “...bright enough to spot the difference between a bomb and a tofu cream pie.” By the time Byrne made it through the media circuit and landed on the CBC’s “Fisheries Broadcast,” he was pleased to note that he had done over 20 interviews on his suggestion that PETA be labelled a terrorist group.

Who created that controversy? Were we now to believe that PETA would bomb and brutally behead people, like ISIS does?

These examples show that the trail of controversy that was created traces itself back to the author and architect of it all: Gerry Byrne. Ask yourself this question: how does creating a controversy by publicly criticizing a woman with hepatitis C, a man dying with cancer, professionals at our provincial university and an animal rights organization lead to something where, in Byrne’s own words, “...at the end of the day, something good always comes of it”?

Had Byrne been the slightest bit self-reflective that morning, he may have recalled these events. Armed with that knowledge he could have put himself in the shoes of those he targeted. His next step would then have been to ask himself this question: who created all that controversy in the public domain, and what was the point of it all? Controversy for the sake of it?
I’ll leave you, the reader, with this question: was exposure in the media purely the desired end result?

Bern Kenny
Corner Brook

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